Exploring Attitude in the Body- Part 1
If we look very closely we can find that much of our life experience is reflected in our body. As the body reacts to external situations we have internal reactions. The degree to which we can allow the “charge” from the external stimulus to be expressed, to “discharge”, determines the degree which the experience stays with us. This article will explore how this works. For starters, try the following exercise:
-Close your eyes and allow yourself to fully relax.
-Now imagine a time early in your life when you experienced an intrusion and let yourself take (and hold) the posture you have in response to this. How do you protect yourself?
-Exaggerate the response, tensing the muscles that have been mobilized and stay for a moment in this reaction.
-Now let yourself keep the tension in the internal muscles, but drop your hands or outward posture.
-Does the stance you are now in feel familiar?
Did the exercise make you more aware of tension that is always there? We can carry with us an internal posture of defense based on situations from our past. How we develop our body early in life is, in some part, a response to our experiences. This is also greatly affected by the developmental stage in which the experience occurs. The age and stage of development dictates many details of perception and formation, for example, how soft and malleable our bones are (which affects our posture), how well we can protect ourselves, what we perceive is happening in the situation based on our sense of helplessness or mastery. Future articles will discuss these important developmental issues. There are also other influences to the formation of the body such as genetics, learned behaviors and societal and cultural influences, but we can use this article to explore the more gross reaction patterns as they relate to our psychological make-up.
In the situation that you “reacted” to in the exercise were you able to move the tension out of the body in response to the intrusion? If you weren’t, and if the situation was re-occurring in your youth so as to solidify the reaction pattern, you may still be reacting to that situation over and over again even though the external environment has changed and you have grown up. One important reason to become aware of the physical reaction is that it may lead to tendencies, physical holding patterns that influence the other levels of our being, our thinking and how we make sense of what is happening, our emotional responses, and our subsequent behaviors. All of this construes an attitude, or our general personality traits.
For example, if, in the exercise, you turned your torso the right and allowed your left arm to protect your face, collapsing your chest, bringing your head downward hiding your face and letting your shoulders roll forward to protect your heart, you will have a very different attitude then someone who doubled both of their fists, drew their breath in and their energy upward and forward. This person might bring their energy outward with their eyes, tensing their jaw creating a fierce look on their face, making themselves bigger and ready to come down hard on the intrusion. Take a minute to try these two different postures and let yourself feel the emotions and attitudes that come with them. They expose two very different belief systems held by the person who experiences them and the way they perceive the world.
Now think about the memory that came up in the original exercise for you. In that memory did you get to express your protective instinct? Did you yell no or fight back in any way? If you did, you had the opportunity to release the tension in the body that was generated. This may have made it easier to relax after the experience and to go on in a flexible way. If you didn’t get to move the energy through, didn’t get to talk to someone about the thing that happened and receive some comfort and assurance, you may still have energy tied to the early experience. Your muscles that you hold against the experience strengthen over time and this forms your body structure so that eventually aspects of the way you look reflect the way you feel inside! Body-psychotherapy can help you to explore and release the holding patterns and allow you to reclaim the energy held in defending yourself. Take some time to write in your journal about the memory that came up and the way that you perceive that has affected your life. Notice the attitude you have about it. Do you see this attitude reflected in other areas of your life?
Future articles will continue this exploration of attitude in the body but for now begin to observe times and areas in your life that this attitude has become your personality. What do you want or need from that place? Is this realistic given that you are now an adult and able to do things for yourself that you couldn’t do when you were younger? Give yourself credit for having gotten through the situation in the best way possible. This can be the beginning of a deep healing and change in your life experience!
By Aylee Welch, LICSW